Every story begins
“The shadows are as musk among the dew:
as though the light were pearls among the branches.”
11th century; translation,
“Kings absolutely adore taking refined pleasures in a garden!”
(al-`ajouz), The Tale of Bayād and Riyād, al-Andalus,
13th century; translation,
From Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Rappaccini’s Daughter:
“There was one shrub in particular, set in a marble vase in the midst of the pool, that bore a profusion of purple blossoms, each of which had the luster and richness of a gem…Every portion of the soil was peopled with plants and herbs…some were placed in urns, rich with old carving, and others in common garden pots; some crept serpent-like along the ground, or climbed on high, using whatever means of ascent was offered them. One plant had wreathed itself round a statue of Vertumnus, which was thus quite veiled and shrouded in a drapery of hanging foliage.”
I first read Hawthorne’s haunting story during my freshman year of college, in a high-ceilinged, open-windowed classroom in an ivy-covered, red-brick building, looking out over thick trees, a rivulet, a little bridge. I instantly recognized Rappaccini’s lush, poisonous garden: it was the place I’d been searching for my entire life. It was the place for me.
I’d had glimpses of it as a very young child. I grew up in the western corner of Tennessee, Memphis an hour away and Nashville two if you drove fast. Somewhere along a secondary road leading in one of those two directions was a grey stone mansion, set deep in the woods, at the end of a long drive. Its gardens—lush, profuse, overgrown—were open to the public one Sunday a month, spring, summer and fall. There were flowers everywhere—white, yellow, orange, red. Every possible shade of purple and fuchsia; low stone walls, ivy and moss creeping over them. All that was missing was Hawthorne’s statue: Vertumnus, Roman god of the seasons, of plant growth and fruit trees. A shape-shifter, he could change form at will.
There was a pond. There were peacocks; one was white—maybe he was Vertumnus. Once I heard one scream.
Coming February 2018
Told in six vibrantly distinct voices, BIRDS OF WONDER is a complex and original narrative chronicling the rippling effects of a young girl’s death through a densely intertwined community in upstate New York.
Read an excerpt
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